The Reason Why I Do Web Design – And Not Logos
The scenario I'm about to describe is one so common that I'm betting not a single web designer will be unfamiliar with it, and I'm guessing, quite a lot of you on the client side will recognise it too. It goes like this: client hires web designer to build website. Somewhere along the road, the web designer is going to ask the client for their logo and other brand materials. At which point the client exclaims: "but that's what I'm paying you to do!"
Now, how big a disaster this is really depends on how far along they are in the project. A good web designer will have figured this one out in the initial phone call so it won’t be a problem; while a bad one will be halfway through the project before it arises and they start bitching in message boards about their "idiot client".
You can probably guess I'm very much on the client side in this debate, and that's because I've never understood why a certain section of my industry is so averse to explaining what they're actually talking about.
My stance has always been: I am the web designer. You are the client. It is my job to make sure every part of the process is clear to you, so you can make informed decisions about what you need.
After all, why would you be hiring a website expert if you already know everything yourself?
So without further ado, let's jump into the differences between branding, logos, and web design, and what they all mean for your business.
What is a "brand"?
Let's start with the simple definition: it is much, much more than your logo.
Your brand is basically a concept: the thoughts and feelings people have when they think of you or your business. In other words, your brand is basically your personality.
That's why it's so important to me when clients give feedback like this (yeah, total explainabrag here, but I think you’ll see why I was so happy):
“Working with Emma was a total delight. She made the business of planning, building and launching a complex new Shopify site easy and fun. Emma is a highly effective communicatorwho understands her business extremely well. While we were busy focused on all the many other aspects of launching a new online retail business in Germany, we could relax in the knowledge that Emma had our site covered. We are expecting a fast growth from our site, so it was imperative that it was built well and that the back-end was robust and future-proofed... It was such a relief to be able to hand this all to Emma and know that she would do an incredible job for us... Knowing that you can leave all of this side of things in experienced hands take so much pressure off when launching your business, and for that, I can't think of anyone better than Emma.”
As well as it being a lovely thing to hear from anyone, these happen to be the exact qualities I want my own “brand” to be known for. Essentially my "personal brand" (although being honest, I absolutely cringe when I hear that term!) is based around what others think of me.
Or to put it another way: your "brand" is who you are.
Now, because I’m just one person, my brand is naturally based around what I’m actually like in real life. Or at least the "me" in my business that is, who is a reliable, creative problem-solver.
I'm not saying I'm not like that in real life, but there does tend to be much more pyjama wearing, swearing, and sarcasm than my branding might indicate. It's why I like to think of a "brand" as kind of like a simplified personality: real personalities are contradictory and complicated, whereas brands are simple caricatures of qualities.
So what is a logo?
A logo is simply an icon or graphic that we use to represent a brand, in much the same way that your profile picture on Facebook represents you.
Just like your profile pic presumably doesn’t sum up the whole of your personality, but rather maybe one or two key aspects of it (like your love of marathons, or how family-oriented you are), even a good logo won’t express a brand in its entirety.
Let’s take the classic example of Apple: Apple's brand is based on being innovative, stylish, and more than a little elite and exclusive. And sure, their products, advertising, and store design help get that point across visually, but so does everything else about them, like their higher than average prices, and the language they use (who else would describe their tech support staff as "geniuses", and then actually expect customers to use the term as well?).
Apple has a clear cut personality, and while you may not like it, you do know about it.
Does "apple with a bite taken out of it" communicate all that by itself? Of course not! But Apple's brand is by now so well established, that when we see the famous Apple icon, all those associations are made instantaneously.
So here's the rub – when you're just starting out, your logo won't mean that much. Since people don’t know your brand yet, they’re not going to have an instant set of associations with your logo, no matter how cleverly designed it is.
Now hold your horses, because I know some of you are now thinking “great! Logos don’t matter, I’ll throw something together myself and save myself the [however many hundreds or thousands you were quoted]!”
That’s not what I said.
Web Design vs. Brand Design
Eventually, as you grow your business, the general hope most entrepreneurs have is that they will build a recognisable (and of course, profitable) business.
Here’s where a badly designed logo will actually hold you back, and this is where, once again, I’ll use myself an example (no explainabrags here, this one I actually screwed up.)
You see, I’m not a brand designer. I’m a web designer.
To those of you with no design experience that may sound like pretty much the same thing, but it’s essentially the equivalent of saying that because someone is an excellent fashion designer, they must also be a good architect.
Yeah, “design” is an element of both, but that’s pretty much it. Web design at its core is really about taking information like text and images, and organising and presenting it in a way that is accessible, engaging and ideally, visually appealing for visitors.
Brand design on the other hand, is about taking a set of abstract concepts, ideals and values, and trying to distill them down into a simple, recognisable icon.
You see the difference? One is incredibly abstract and intuitive, and the other relies much more on logic and organisation. Although a lot of freelancers offer web + brand design as one complete package, it is very unlikely you will find one single person who can do a professional job on both.
Brand designers are usually capable of making websites look good. The problem is, a lot of them come with a bunch of issues like confusing navigation, slow site speeds, terrible SEO standards, and a whole bunch of other issues that most clients unfortunately won’t even notice until about six months or so after the project has wrapped up.
A good web designer will make your site look good, and without any of those issues. But we probably won’t do a great job on your brand design, because as is hopefully clear by now, they’re two different skillsets.
So I should have really known better than to throw together my own logo last year.
If you look at it, it’s basically a personal signature, like an artist would have. It expresses qualities like “creativity”, and gives a highly emotive, expressive feel to the whole site. You can imagine the person behind that logo being highly intuitive, and creating a lot of their work based on general feelings and insights.
Which is not me at all.
I’m creative, yes, but my creativity is just a part of my brand, and not even what I consider my strongest quality. And as for the other qualities, well… I love data and statistics, and strongly belief that decisions should always be based on facts over feelings.
So yeah, while visually I’ve had lots of compliments on my brand design, it’s actually a crap logo.
(It’s also why I’m excited to be working with a professional for my new brand design, but that’s not getting unveiled just yet!)
But in the meantime, my logo, and by extension, my website, say literally nothing about what it’s like to work with me. I get lots of requests from people who very obviously expect me to be far more “woowoo” than I actually am, and frankly, I’ve been lucky that the clients who were a good fit actually took the time to read my site copy, rather than basing their opinion of my brand on my design alone.
Branding, Logos & Web Design: The Differences Between the Three
So, to sum up: no one can design a brand, because your brand is actually the core personality of your business.
What a brand designer can do, is to create your logo. It’s never going to express everything about your business personality, but that’s ok. It’s simply a symbol for your brand, not the whole brand by itself.
Your brand identity is how you communicate your business personality to the world. It’s not just visual – a good writer will help you express this through the copy on your site, and even things like your customer service or returns policy can form part of your brand identity.
Finally, your website is very simply, your online storefront. It’s basically the clearest way for people to get a sense of your brand identity, in much the same way as walking into a physical shop tells you a whole lot about the brand behind it.
In much the same way that people use their clothes and accessories to tell the world what kind of person they are, I use things like website fonts and colors to help express a brand’s identity – not to create it from scratch.